More than a Feeling: Rock Stars, Heroines and Transwomen

by Miroslav Imbrišević


If you want to be a rock star, playing Guitar Hero (a video game) with your friends will not do the trick. Although it might sow some seeds. You need to do rock star things: play a real instrument or sing, write good songs, have long hair, do some head banging, smash your guitar on stage, trash hotel rooms and throw wild parties.

If you want to be a hero or heroine, you need to do heroic deeds, like rescuing grannies from burning buildings or holding off a horde of Nazis single-handedly, while you wait for reinforcements to arrive. Re-creating the battles of Waterloo and Trafalgar in your bedroom will not count as heroic.

Note that merely ‘feeling like a rock’ star, or ‘feeling like a heroine’ will not make you into a rock star or a heroine either. Though such feelings may (or may not) arise once you are a member of The Pretenders or when you get a medal for bravery.

If you want to be a (trans)woman… let’s see.

There is a war over words being waged within academia, in the political sphere, but also on the internet. The bone of contention is the word ‘woman’, and how a particular interpretation might affect the rights of women and transwomen. Before I proceed I need to state that I write from the perspective of a male philosopher, but with a little help from my female friends.

If you were born with a male body, is there anything you could do (like aspiring rock stars or future heroines) which would make you a woman? The law (Gender Recognition Act 2004) in the UK suggests, yes, there is. One of the requirements for changing your gender is that you  prove that you have lived fully in your acquired gender for the last two years (by producing documentary evidence showing change of name and gender, such as a passport, rent book, wages slip or benefits documentation). From this we can deduce that gender presentation and changing your first name to a traditional female name would be some of things the law makers in 2004 expected people to do as part of “living in your acquired gender.” We could go further and say that the lawmakers expected you to not keep presenting as a man. Transwomen were supposed to conform – outwardly – to the gender roles associated with women.

There are other things transwomen do willingly in order to affirm their idea of womanhood and/or to be read as a woman: use make-up, have gender-affirming surgery, wear a wig, have feminizing facial surgery and voice training, use electrolysis, take hormones, etc. In this respect they are doing things traditionally associated with being a woman or things which might have a feminizing effect. By doing these things they are just like rock stars or heroines.

A lot of the things transwomen do may seem gender-stereotypical. Resisting gender-stereotypes would be counterproductive for those transwomen who wish to be read as women, because it would make it less likely that they would pass as women. Doing some of these feminizing things helps in adapting to the gender role associated with women.

Note that the direction of fit, for the three groups I have discussed so far, is always from the individual to the concept (rock star, heroine, woman – understood as the gender role). You make yourself fit the concept by doing certain things; you move from doing to being.

Does this also hold for natal[1] women? Do they need to do something in order to be a woman (understood as ‘adult female human being’[2])? No. They could resist gender stereotypes from early on (tomboy) and continue to do so – think of gender non-conforming lesbians – and still be classed as women. Similarly, many male rock stars of the 70s and 80s were gender non-conforming by incorporating stereotypical feminine traits into their hyper-masculinity[3]: long hair, poodle perms, strutting, writhing, tight trousers, make-up, high heels, etc. So what is it that makes you a woman – understood as being of the female sex?

Society starts taking its cue from the biological reality of natal women (XX chromosomes, sexual organs, etc.), beginning from birth. And on the way to adulthood a girl will be – to a higher or lesser degree – socialized into the (gender) roles associated with women. Their female sex is a brute fact, no different from the color of your eyes or the shape of your nose. [4] The brute fact of being born female (or male) precedes or underlies anything you may do to conform to or resist the gender concept ‘woman’ (or ‘man’). There are no brute facts that underlie being a rock star or a heroine – hence the need to do certain things. The midwife doesn’t say: “Look! It’s a rock star.” Instead, she says: “Look! It’s a girl.” [5]

For transwomen, the brute fact of being born female (a girl) is missing; they are faced with the brute fact of being born male. Thus, all that could qualify them for being a woman — in the traditional, gender-role sense of the word — would be to do those things that outwardly mark you as a woman.  But these markers are selections and oftentimes, reflect male fantasies and projections. [6]

Some trans activists are suggesting that there is something else that could take the place of the missing brute fact of being born female and living in a female body: “feeling” like a woman – an inner sense of self that reveals your gender identity. These trans activists (and their philosophical supporters in feminist theory) claim that there is no need to do or change anything about yourself in order to be (legally) classed as a woman; to fall under the concept ‘woman’. All that is required to make you a woman is to feel like a woman, to self-identify as a woman. And this feeling allegedly comes with its own epistemic warrant. It is claimed to be self-validating (also here), the idea being that another person cannot judge these kinds of claims or prove them wrong. Claims about gender identity are “not up for debate” , as they are held to be sacrosanct. [4] But philosophers have always discussed and probed sacrosanct notions; the name ‘Socrates’ comes to mind.

If identifying as a woman is sufficient to make you a woman, then there is no need to continue to adapt to the gender role ‘woman’. Your gender identity appears to be independent of any gender role.

At first glance, the obvious advantage of claiming to feel like a woman is that feelings are difficult to scrutinize and to refute. But the first person account of gender identity is not immune to criticism. You could easily be mistaken: how could you know that what you feel or identify with is womanhood, rather than a projection of womanhood? You could be the unreliable narrator of your own story.

If there is indeed some specific feeling of gender (many deny this), how could it come about? I suspect there is some interplay between your biological sex (body) and the respective gender role. Recall that transpeople often claim that they were born into the wrong body. This suggests that they wish their gender identity would align with their biology. The medical profession calls this misalignment “gender dysphoria,” or “body dysphoria.”

Moira Gatens argued that gender norms affect how we see and use our bodies. I internalise gender norms not just through my mind but also through my body. For example, boys and girls learn to walk, gesture or sit in a particular way. Outwardly this might be replicated by transpeople (walking like a woman), but do they have the same sense of a sexed body? Gatens writes (1996: 10): “The ‘feminine male’ may have experiences that are socially coded as ‘feminine’, but these experiences must be qualitatively different from female experience of the feminine.” The gendered experience does not arise from a neutral body, but from a sexed – and lived – body. This means that a transwoman’s idea – (feeling) and experience – of being a woman is fundamentally different from that of a natal woman, because of the differences between their sexed bodies. Transgirls start off with a male body and with being socialized into the male gender role – even if they reject that socialization process early on and try to resist it as much as possible.

Sexed embodiment is part of what it means to be a woman (Stoljar[7]: 284): ‘having menstrual cramps and female sexual experience, and the “lived experience” of child-birth, breast-feeding’, or at least the potential to have such lived experience’. Not every woman will give birth, of course, but the majority of women experience most, if not all, of the sensations associated with having a female body. None of these are open to transwomen, but note that some transwomen claim that they ‘menstruate’ (as I will discuss shortly).

We could add, for example, that the experience of the male gaze from an early age, which is directed at the female body, has an effect on your sense of body. [8] It can cause eating disorders and self-harm in teenage girls. Of course we should get rid of the male gaze, but, as things stand, it is part of the lived experience for women. The routine objectification of the female body (it is there for male enjoyment) results in a distortion of how females experience their bodies and how society as a whole views their bodies.

So whatever transwomen mean by avowals about their gender (I am a woman!) or by claiming to feel like a woman, it is likely to be off the mark. The female experience is fundamentally different.

Let’s assume that there is this mysterious gender feeling of being a woman. Transwomen could never be sure that what they feel is what natal women feel, because the former were born male and their socialization fundamentally differs from that of girls/women. Not even those natal women who claim to have a specific gender feeling could be sure that what they feel is identical to what another woman feels. It could also be that what (some) women feel about their gender is specifically female, linked to their sexed body, and what (some) transwomen feel is something completely different.

The philosopher Talia Mae Bettcher tries to circumvent the epistemic weaknesses of first-person avowals. For her, First Person Authority about gender is an ethical notion rather than an epistemic notion. If you deny – in the wider community – what people claim about themselves (within trans communities) you wrong them, and you allegedly erase them.

I am not sure that first person claims (I am a woman!) which are accepted within a particular community need be accepted by the wider community. I also doubt that this necessarily would mean that we are wronging them. If someone is accepted and treated as a woman within their own community, why must the wider community accede to such claims, particularly if ‘man’ and ‘woman’ mean something else in these communities, as Bettcher admits? [9] Why should the norms within a subculture trump the norms within the dominant culture? Why is making a distinction between transwomen and women in the wider community an affront to transwomen? After all – if we follow Bettcher – transwomen are treated as women (whatever that means) within the trans community. So we can agree that they are transwomen, but the claim that they also are women would need more philosophical argument.

If someone claims and is recognised as the King within a subculture, this does not mean that this person is or should be treated as the King of England. I am sure that our monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, would be seriously displeased about such claims to her throne, just as women are whenever they are confronted with people who look like ordinary men, but claim to be women. They are neither female nor adapting to the gender roles associated with women.

Bettcher comes up with a novel solution to the epistemic problems which beset the idea of “feeling like a woman” – by side-stepping them. Bettcher’s improved account banks on the reluctance of people to transgress ethical norms. The default position for most people is that we do not wish to wrong others. If somebody claims something about themselves, then we need to respect their ‘First Person Authority’. But her line of argument suffers from serious weaknesses. Not everything people claim about themselves might be true or might apply in a different context/community. [10]

This new understanding of the word ‘woman’ among some trans activists suggests that one may look like a man, but feel like and be a woman inside. Or that you could sport a Karl-Marx-type beard and at the same time your cleavage reveals your recently acquired breasts (queering?). The word ‘woman’ doesn’t mean “adult human female” anymore. Similarly, a penis may be called (reclassified as) a ‘lady dick’ or ‘girl dick’.[11]

Some transwomen claim that they have periods. They insist that their symptoms are what a period is, but “without the bleeding.” The biological facts don’t need to fit the definition in order to count as menstruation, for the definition of ‘period’ has been changed to fit the trans experience; to affirm their narrative and confirm them as women.  Thus, periods no longer require shedding the lining of one’s uterus, but occur as a result of “getting moody and eating chocolate,” as one transwoman claimed. Many women find this offensive, given the discomfort, distress and pain periods can cause.[12] The traditional markers of womanhood don’t apply any more.

Something similar is claimed for the term ‘lesbian’, which used to mean: same sex attracted woman. According to the revised view, a lesbian who has penile penetrative sex (with a transwoman) would still count as a lesbian. Consequently, gay women who don’t feel attracted to transwomen may be called transphobic (or lesbophobic?).

In this new understanding of the word ‘woman’ there is nothing in your biology, your behavior, your actions, your socialization, your sexed embodiment or your appearance that makes you a woman. All that is required is to feel like a woman, to self-identify as a woman; and this, combined with altering the meaning of the word ‘woman’ (as well as other terms), will make you a woman.

This approach differs from that of rock stars, heroes and heroines, and transwomen (who wish to pass) in that it changes the direction of fit. Previously, individuals who exhibited certain qualities (usually by doing certain things) would fall under a particular concept. Now the definition of ‘woman’ is being changed so that the word will fit the trans narrative.

But let’s not forget the implications for transsexuals and for transwomen who simply want to be read as women. They want to fit into the category of woman rather than reinterpret the concept completely and make the rest of society adapt to their narrative.[13]

In the standard view there are four main elements to being a woman: the brute fact of biology (being born as a girl) which is with you all your life, the socializing pressures from society, the specifically female experience (objectification, subordination, sexual and domestic violence, etc.), and the performance aspect (to whatever degree) of the gender role.

Rock stars are different, in that they don’t start out as rock stars. It is a phase in their life, and for some, quite a long one (Mick Jagger). There is a performance aspect to their role (dress, behavior, etc.) but there is also a substantial element to being a rock star: they write great songs, enthrall their audiences, inspire admiration, etc. What it says on the package is actually inside the package. They don’t just play the role associated with rock stars, they are rock stars. I doubt that many have a “rock star identity,” instead, they most likely identify with being the singer/guitarist/drummer/bass player in the band.

Heroes and heroines don’t come in packages; they don’t play a role. It is usually one-off events that turn them into heroes or heroines. And most heroes and heroines refuse to apply the label to themselves. Others call them heroes and heroines, based on their actions. They don’t “identify” as heroes or heroines.

A transwoman who puts on a wig and make-up for the first time is like a rock star in training; she is focused on the performance aspect of the gender role. Those who pass well will get some idea of female oppression in society. But if a transwoman really wants to know about the female experience she would need to talk to women, and to listen to women’s stories, for a long time.

It is also hard to see how those who rely on a mere feeling can claim to be transwomen. In what sense are they trans? What are they transitioning to or from? Claiming that you are X (a rock star, a hero/heroine, British, or black), based merely on a feeling, doesn’t normally make you into that X. [14] More is required. Why should this be different for women?

It is possible that there is no such thing as a specific gender identity. To me, this seems plausible. Let me talk about my own experience. I know I am a man (earlier: a boy), because others told me so all my life and treated me in a particular way. But I don’t know whether I feel like a man or even what it might mean to feel like one. I say this because I have no reference point, nothing to compare it to. All I know is how men act, but I don’t have access to their psychological states. What they feel (about their gender) might be completely different from what I feel – if I do feel anything “gendery” at all; I’m not sure I do. So if there are no specific gender feelings which we share within our respective groups (woman, man, gender-fluid, etc.), then the feeling-account of gender implodes.

But even if we accepted the new feeling-account of what it is to be a woman, it looks like an impoverished or very thin notion of what it means to be a woman – and, strangely, these individuals appear to be indistinguishable from ordinary men. This leads to a practical problem: how are others in wider society supposed to identify you as a woman and treat you as such, when there are no external markers to help them? Everywhere you go, you’d have to run around with a t-shirt or badge stating: “I am a woman,” as well as telling every new person you meet that you are a woman and inviting them to use particular pronouns.

Being a woman surely is more than a feeling – at least, this is what my female friends tell me.


[1] Women who were born as girls and who haven’t transitioned to another gender status later on.

[2] This is the dictionary definition from the SOED.

[3] Using guitars and microphone stands as penis extensions.

[4] Of course what you are given at birth, by ‘nature’, is tied to the biological make-up of your parents.

[5] Some people deny that ‘biological sex’ is real – it’s a social construct:

[6] This is in tension with progressive feminist ideas: (most) gender norms are harmful and they are not what makes you into a woman. There is no need to conform to (all of) them.

[7] However, Stoljar’s (274) view is: ‘female sex turns out to be a necessary component of the concept of woman, although as I have suggested it is not essential to the attribution of womanness to an individual.’

[8] Some transwomen pass as women and will experience the male gaze, but for women this is an experience which starts in puberty. In some cultures this may lead to a complete covering up of the body, to breast binding or to breast ironing. Transwomen do the opposite, whereas transmen try to hide the female features of their body – just like some natal women.

[9] Are all transpeople joining and living in trans communities in addition to living their regular lives as Bettcher suggests?

[10] Compare this with human animals/otherkin. Interestingly, they tend to go beyond the feeling and imitate animal behaviour.

[11] There is another aspect to all of this. For centuries women’s bodies have been depicted as lacking, men’s bodies being the norm(al) – culminating in Freud’s ‘penis envy’. With transwomen claiming to be literally/biologically women, possibly endowed with ‘lady dicks’, this could be seen as another attempt to denigrate the female body.

[12] Blaire White, a transwoman, dismisses such notions:

[13] Note that many transsexuals do not like the idea of trans people not ‘transitioning’ – there are divisions in the trans community about this issue.

[14] Since writing this essay self-identification has been taken to a new level in the UK. The University and College Union takes the view that you can self-identify as black or disabled (






22 responses to “More than a Feeling: Rock Stars, Heroines and Transwomen”

  1. So if it’s a good day and I “feel like a million,” that doesn’t mean I have a million? Damn.

  2. P. Chat

    “Since writing this essay self-identification has been taken to a new level in the UK. The University and College Union takes the view that you can self-identify as black….”

    Isn’t this why Rachael Dolezal was demonized in the US?

    I do not know how seriously to take this, but Wikipedia describes the otherkin, « a subculture who socially and spiritually identify as not entirely human…. Some otherkin consider themselves to be part of the larger “Trans” identity movement, seeing themselves as “trans species”. »

  3. davidlduffy

    “…self-identify as black or disabled..self-identification has been taken to a new level in the UK.”: You are presumably aware of the long standing legal difficulties around this area eg the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities uses a “social model” of disability, so that “…the scope of disability protection may extend to those who do not have impairments but whose participation in society is still hindered” [Butlin 2011]. Similarly, the earlier tripartite definition of racial identity involving genetic relationship, self-identification, and acceptance by the “appropriate community” end up with strange corner cases (what genetic distance, and weren’t we trying to get away from “one drop”? what if the community doesn’t like you?).

    “Sexed embodiment…the majority of women experience most, if not all…” is all very well, but reminds me of the gotchas regarding anti-SSM arguments regarding successful reproduction – quite aside from the intersex conditions, there will be a subset of women who will “fail” this test.

    To a more general remark, the analogies you have chosen aren’t necessarily the most appropriate. I think the situation is that there is a small historically persistent proportion of the population that self-identifies as the opposite sex, and who make the liberal argument that their orientation does not harm others to a significant extent, and thus should be allowed to do what they want. The question is the political one of what adjustments of society to facilitate this are not burdensome on others.

  4. Yes, and Rebecca Tuvel’s paper in Hypatia from 2017 (comparing Caitlyn Jenner’s situation with that of Dolezal) turns out to be prescient, although it was condemned and the author vilified by the woke crowd in the US. The University and College Union in the UK, in an attempt to be super-woke, is in conflict with those who attacked Tuvel. There are now ‘trans’-continental fault lines (I couldn’t resist the pun) within the woke crowd. But it isn’t surprising. The need to push the notion of self-ID, come what may, will lead to absurd consequences, like accepting that anyone can ‘identify as black or disabled’. Following this logic, I should have simply identified as British two years ago, rather than applying for citizenship (a laborious process).

    The interesting thing about otherkin, at least in the video link I provided, is that they are all young people – people who are looking for an identity, something to do with developmental psychology? And they don’t simply self-identify, they imitate as well. There is a performance aspect to it. In this way they differ from men who retain their gender-presentation but claim to be women.

  5. Harrison Ainsworth

    Perhaps the most easy and efficient way to rebut ‘transgenderism’ is the following. Ask them to define/explain any of their gender ideas, *without anything anywhere leading back to and depending on the standard concepts of sex, of male and female*.

    They cannot. And with that, in their own (lack of) words, they concede virtually everything. They are forced to acknowledge that they know the ordinary concepts, that they are distinct from all the gender stuff, and that they are logically and physically prior. (Even if they refuse to say they know what female/male means, they place themselves as not equal to the debate and fail by default.).

    Now, they cannot say that they mean something else, that male/female means something else: we already established that they must know what we mean. Nor can they claim to be ‘redefining’ the terms: they would just be talking about something else, and we can point back to male/female, and its manifestation in society, as the primary and important concept and fact.

    The whole game of ‘feeling of’ and ‘identification’ is a contrivance to short-circuit a moral claim – a claim of want – into a claim of fact, and so be its own proof. But to go that way is a big mistake, for it renders the basic definition of trans-ness into a contradiction: instead of being a statement of (roughly) wanting to be particular a sex, it becomes a statement of *being* a sex that one is *not*. In that, logical fate is set: there is a contradiction in there, at the root, and no logical structure built on it can ever work. And indeed we see the rational disorder it has produced …

  6. You are a bit out of date. All the action today is with the non-binary, gender queer, gender fluid, etc. it’s not just people trying to live as the opposite sex, i.e. transsexuals, any more. Indeed, they increasingly are being marginalized within transgender activist circles.

  7. Re: the point on disability “self identification” it strikes me as obviously outrageous and borderline insane. I’m rather stunned you find it a reasonable notion.

  8. As for your last point, I agree with it entirely. But the issues over which this is become controversial are precisely those in which it *is* becoming burdensome, specifically to women: intimate spaces; health services; competitive athletics; etc.

  9. “The question is the political one of what adjustments of society to facilitate this are not burdensome on others.”

    As Daniel said, the question is who will bear which burdens. The proponents of self-ID want to do away with the burdens imposed by the UK Gender Recognition Act 2004. But as a consequence transwomen would impose greater burdens on women by demanding to be treated as if they were biological women. This results in reduced opportunities (podium places in sports, all-women short-lists in politics), reduced safety (toilets, changing rooms, female prisons, etc.) and very likely an increase in discomfort/alarm for women who have experienced domestic and sexual violence (women’s shelters, overnight train compartments, changing rooms). So women pay the price for allowing biological males into their spaces. The irony is that previously transwomen made an effort to pass as women, they took on considerable burdens. But now some trans activists claim that self-Id or feeling like a woman is sufficient to make you into a woman – and it is ok to keep presenting as ordinary men. This looks like a one-sided distribution of burdens.

  10. Exactly right. I actually am quite shocked at how soon after the full entry of women into every area of life, self-styling “progressives” are suddenly so eager to throw them overboard. Makes one realize that the sexism was much deeper than one thought.

  11. Interesting piece, but something puzzles me. A few weeks ago you wrote on Electric Agora that the Gender Recognition Act in England (or is it the UK?) created a legal fiction. I quote:

    “Although someone was born as a boy, having male sex markers and registered as such, they can apply for a new birth certificate (once they get a GRC) which will state their sex to be ‘female’ (and vice versa for people who transition to be recognised as a man). This is a legal fiction.”

    But in a piece by Kathleen Stock about the Forstater case (, she mentions that a UK employment tribunal judge wrote:

    ”I do not accept the Claimant’s contention that the Gender Recognition Act produces a mere legal fiction. It provides a right, based on the assessment of the various interrelated convention rights, for a person to transition, in certain circumstances, and thereafter to be treated for all purposes as the being of the sex to which they have transitioned.”

    I’m not a legal expert, but this sound quite contrived. Legal fictions usually provide rights, so this can’t be the reason why the GRA is more than a “mere legal fiction”.

    The reason why it’s more according to this judge, seems to be that a person with a GRC has the right to be treated “for all purposes” as being of the sex etc. But this is strange too, because the legal fictions I know do not give rights “for all purposes”. In some circumstances a corporation has the rights of a natural person, in others it hasn’t.

    Could you enlighten me? Did the GRA create a legal fiction, or didn’t it?

  12. davidlduffy

    “non-binary, gender queer, gender fluid, etc”: Come on, these date back at least 50 years in the mainstream of the alternate (you know what I mean). Before the recent concentration on the practical possibilities of changing sex and/or gender, the idea of play with these dichotomies rather than dissolution of difference was and I presume remains an important thread.

    “disability self identification” – speaking with my paternalistic biomedical hat on this does seem a bit odd, but, as you would know well, the idea that such relative deviations from a communal norm in ability are just that also go back a long way (read Erewhon lately?).

    Burden on others – this doesn’t seem the main point of the current essay, which is a purported identification of a conceptual incoherence. However, I think we are in the territory of incommensurability. Some people really really want to do this, and the vast majority don’t. A very small number are making ambit claims that are just as shocking to you as union wage claims are to some employers. Some accommodations will eventually be made, or maybe we will have a backlash. The Stonewall riot apparently started once drag queens threw bricks at policemen, maybe it’s not that different.

  13. Thank you for your interest, Couvent 2104.

    I find it odd to call Maya Forstater’s view (that sex is immutable) a ‘philosophical belief’. You are typically born either male or female. There is wide scientific consensus about this; we could also call this the ‘common-sense view’, because it has been observed for thousands of years within our species and within the animal kingdom. The fact that there are rare cases of sexual development disorders (DSDs – doesn’t disprove this view. Although the judge put great store in the existence of intersex people and certain rare conditions – in this way trying to undermine the science supporting her view. The judge even states: “there is significant scientific evidence that it [her view] is wrong”.

    Nevertheless, Forstater’s view is no different than believing that the earth revolves around the sun. This is not a philosophical view, this is science (unless you take science to be a philosophical view). This differs from believing that all is mind (idealism) or all is matter (materialism); these are classic philosophical views, and they have been regularly contested in philosophy.

    I suppose Forstater’s legal team chose ‘philosophical view’ as a basis of their defense because this is a protected category under the UK Equality Act 2010 (as well as ‘religious views’). And I suspect that the category ‘philosophical belief’ was included in the legislation in 2010 to take account of humanists or other non-believers (1).

    Imagine your employer taking the creation story in the Bible literally (the Earth is 6000 years old, etc.) and you take the scientific view – and tweet about the geology of the Earth. You get fired because your employer is offended by your belief in science. Your employer’s religious belief is protected under the Equality Act. The case goes to an employment tribunal. Should you claim that your view is a ‘philosophical belief’ and therefore protected? (Interestingly, here we would have a clash of protected beliefs: your employer’s religious belief and your ‘philosophical belief’.) Some lawyers may think this would be a good defence strategy (it’s a deeply held philosophical belief), but I think there is a better defence: your view is based on the currently held scientific consensus (usually supported by empirical observation). Whereas philosophical beliefs are regularly contested within philosophy. Why should you be fired for upholding science? (2) There is obviously some scope for improvement in the Equality Act – the scientific consensus also deserves protection. But perhaps it is preposterous to protect the obvious by law?

    The Judge in the Maya Forstater case reasons: ‘If the “gender identity belief” is a philosophical belief, her [MF’s] lack of the belief is necessarily also protected.’ The interesting point is that the ‘gender identity belief’ may be a philosophical belief, but there is no scientific basis to it, whereas Forstater’s belief does have a scientific basis.

    Legal Fictions
    Prior to the UK Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA), a man who had gender reassignment surgery remained, for legal purposes, male. They had to continue working until they reached the retirement age for men (women retire earlier in the UK). After the introduction of the GRA you could change your gender and have your birth sex altered on your birth certificate. But this doesn’t mean that the legislation could – by some sort of magic – change your biological sex from male to female overnight. The law here relies on a legal fiction in order to make the lives of trans people easier. The aim was to remove the dissonance between the position in society assumed by a post-operative transsexual and the status imposed by law (see
    Goodwin v United Kingdom [2002]).

    The GRA reads: ‘Where a full gender recognition certificate is issued to a person, the person’s gender becomes for all purposes the acquired gender (so that, if the acquired gender is the male gender, the person’s sex becomes that of a man and, if it is the female gender, the person’s sex becomes that of a woman).’

    We need to keep in mind that a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) can change a person’s sex legally (however, not in an absolute sense), but not materially. Their biology remains, regardless of medical interventions or gender presentation. Once the state hands over a piece of paper (the GRC) there is no magical transformation of biology, there is only a change of legal status. It is characteristic of legal fictions that we are treating an X ‘as if’ it were Y. The ‘as if’ aspect is important here. We change the sex on the birth certificate – which was NOT issued in error – to the other sex, and treat that person (say, a man), in law, ‘as if’ they had been born a girl. The judge ignores the legal fiction underlying the GRA. The legislation itself reveals the legal fiction in several places. Peerages and other titles (, for example, will continue to go to male-born heirs only and are not affected by the GRA: a transman cannot inherit, presumably, because they are biologically female. If you could really change your sex ‘for all purposes’, there wouldn’t be such exemptions.

    1) “Examples: The Baha’i faith, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Rastafarianism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism are all religions for the purposes of this provision. Beliefs such as humanism and atheism would be beliefs for the purposes of this provision but adherence to a particular football team would not be.” ( Typical cases of disagreement have been: ‘can you make a Christian work on a Sunday?’ or ‘may employees wear religious symbols (the cross) at work’?

    2) In Grainger Plc v Nicholson (2010) it was held that the view that climate change was man-made could be a philosophical belief. This strikes me as odd, surely, even in 2010 there was a wide consensus among scientists about climate change – which would mean it is more than a mere ‘philosophical belief’.

    3) The phrase ‘for all purposes’ is short for ‘to/for all intents and purposes’, going back to English law in the 16th century. It means: ‘in every practical sense’.

  14. The case will go to an appeal, this is not the end of the story.

  15. Thank you very much for your lengthy reply.

  16. There is a problem here with the present debate about transgenderism. It is with how the concept of sex was understood and is understood now. Note: I am not going to use the term ‘gender’ here because I don’t see any usefulness of this distinction made by John Money (the guy whose research ruined David Reimer’s life).

    In ancient time, the sex of a human was discovered at his/her birth through noting the genitalia of the baby. From there, other phenotypes such as the size of breasts, the amount of body hairs, and the size of the larynx became unified with the genitalia within the concept of sex through a very strong correlation of these different traits with the person’s genitalia at birth. Then this concept in turn became woven into the local creation narrative as a society tried to explain its origin, resulting in something along the line of a creator deity creating two sexes of humans, male and female, with the intention that each plays a unique role in daily living. Any occurrences of mismatched between phenotypes such as the cases of intersex were viewed as anomalies as they were not the intention of the creator. Humans didn’t yet know about chromosomes in those times. So, a person of those times would be classified as being in one sex or another depending entirely on whether or not he/she had most or all of the correlated phenotypes, with the most important one being his/her current genitalia (provided that others didn’t know about his/her birth genitalia), regardless of his/her karyotype and of his/her roles in life. During this time, a person with only a single X chromosome would be classified as female and a person with two Xs and 1 Y would be classified as male.

    Fast forward to the discovery of chromosomes, the sex chromosomes were integrated into the concept of sex as a causal factor for the correlated phenotypes. With this, sex is then redefined based on which combination of sex chromosomes a person has in his/her somatic cells. However, a person’s karyotype, unlike other correlated phenotypes, is not immediately visible to those around him/her. Thus, the old way of determining the sex of a person is still used for a person whose karyotype one doesn’t know about. Thus, a person with an XY karyotype and androgen insensitivity syndrome that results in him/her having a vulva, a clitoris, enlarged breasts, etc., who claims to be female, would be viewed by those around him/her as female unless they know about his/her XY karyotype and/or his/her lack of fallopian tubes, a cervix, and a uterus.

    However, it turned out that sex does not end with chromosomes, as biologists learned about the evolution of sexual reproduction and the various sex-determination systems among the eukaryotes. In the end, in terms of the evolutionary cause, a male is defined as an individual organism that produces the smaller gametes (‘sperms’) and a female is defined as an individual that produce the larger gametes (‘eggs’), regardless of the motility of the gametes (yes there are motile eggs and non-motile sperms). A male and a female description are only applicable for species that sexually reproduce using anisogamy, and for organisms an individual of which can produce both types of gametes, such as flowering plants, the individuals are either of both male and female (a ‘simultaneous hermaphrodite’) or without sex at all. In an isogamous sexual reproduction, however, there are no male and female individuals since the two gametes have similar morphology and they differ only having one of the two mating types (commonly noted as ‘+’ and ‘-‘).

    So, what are the implication of these developments in the debate over transgenderism? Well, if sex is to be defined secularly and biologically, then a human person’s karyotypes and phenotypes do not matter for whether he/she is a male or a female since those are mere strong correlates for the type of gamete his/her body produces. Also, it is possible for a human person be born without sex because he/she is born without a gamete and for a person to lose his/her sex due to the loss of all of his/her gametes (via methods such as the removal of the testicles or the removal of the ovaries), and, if building a testicle and an ovary becomes possible, gain a new sex similarly to what a clownfish can do.

    But, should chromosomes matter if they weren’t included in the original, old definition of sex, which depends largely on the genitalia and, to a lesser extent, the phenotypes that appear during puberty and if the chromosomes aren’t immediately visible to the naked eyes? I am fine with a pragmatic, social definition of sex based only on the possession of several correlated phenotypes, and not on a person’s karyotype.

  17. Marc Levesque

    I believe there are a lot of issues that need to be worked through carefully, and past excesses that justify a continued vigilance.

    “There is wide scientific consensus about this; we could also call this the ‘common-sense view’, because it has been observed for thousands of years within our species and within the animal kingdom.”

    But there exists differing views that are clearly not any less scientific, and a common-sense view can be seen as constantly in motion:

  18. I have two comments about the New Statesman article:

    1. Yes, sex isn’t about chromosome, but, as I have written above, the concept still survives as long as sexual reproduction (reproduction involving at least two individual organisms with one specific difference between them) remains

    2. What Sarah Richardson and the author of the article forgot to mention is people’s religious beliefs. For example, adherent of the Abrahamic faiths would treat the intersex cases and aneuploidy cases as anomalies; in other words, they aren’t what what they believe their God have intended for his creations. So, don’t expect the sex binary to go away easily. Nonbelievers (including me) should keep this in minds. Also, ‘gender’ was coined by John Money, and although Christians use the word, gender roles and sex roles are the same things to them.

  19. Marc Levesque

    I don’t disagree on 2.

    And I liked your first comment.

    I believe that when one looks at all the variability of biological factors involved in biological sex, the area between, on a bimodal distribution, male and female types is larger and its borders much more unclear than we may be led to believe by current disorder based descriptions of the area.

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